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$20 million new gift from Dennis and Jan Ellmer and a $20 million gift from philanthropist Joan Brock to university
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$20 million new gift from Dennis and Jan Ellmer and a $20 million gift from philanthropist Joan Brock to university

The first recipients of dozens of new full-ride health science scholarships will attend classes at Old Dominion University this fall, but they haven’t been notified yet. They haven’t even been selected.

That’s because the primary support for these scholarships, two gifts totaling $40 million, was just announced at a celebration of the long-awaited merger of Eastern Virginia Medical School and Old Dominion University, which will officially take place on July 1.

Leaders unveiled the name of the program: Macon and Joan Brock Virginia Health Sciences at Old Dominion University. It will be the largest health sciences center in Virginia, with more than 50 degrees offered, several of which are not available anywhere else in the commonwealth, said Cathy Lewis, community engagement liaison for ODU.

Sentara Health, a longtime EVMS supporter and key partner in the merger process, is committing $350 million to the combined health sciences program over 10 years, Lewis said.

After the event, EVMS President Alfred Abuhamad and ODU President Brian Hemphill spoke about the long road to integration, support from their boards and their own work together.

“From day one, we shared the vision of doing this collaboratively,” Abuhamad said.

Hemphill called it a “perfect storm.”

“We are obviously two very complex organizations,” he said. “It took leaving the ego out of the room and just coming together.”

Speaking at the ceremony, Sentara Health President and CEO Dennis Matheis said he’d received a note recently that framed the integration discussion as “‘sometimes intense.’”

“That’s a mild way of putting it,” Matheis said to laughs from the packed conference room on the third floor of The Main in Norfolk. “But we got to where we needed to go.”

In addition to funding, Sentara has committed to doubling its medical residency slots in Virginia, recognizing that many doctors end up practicing medicine where they complete their training. A state-funded model provides the combined ODU-EVMS institution a solid foundation for future generations, Matheis said.

“This integration is critical to improving health care services for a region that has long struggled to reduce disparities in health outcomes and find its economic footing,” Matheis said.

The $40 million just announced consists of a $20 million endowment from Dennis and Jan Ellmer and a $20 million gift from philanthropist Joan Brock, wife of the late Macon Brock, a co-founder of Dollar Tree. Lewis said some funds from the latter are earmarked for the expansion of the Barry Art Museum. Dennis Ellmer is the founder of Priority Automotive.

There will be some differences among the scholarship programs — the Dennis and Jan Ellmer Health Scholars Program, the Dennis and Jan Ellmer Nursing Scholars Program and the Brock Opportunity Scholarship — but they are all intended to provide opportunities to promising students with ties to the region and the intention to remain after graduation.

Macon and Joan Brock Virginia Health Sciences at ODU will include the EVMS School of Health Professions, the joint School of Public Health, the Ellmer College of Health Sciences, the Ellmer School of Nursing and the Eastern Virginia School of Medicine at ODU.

Not all of the 56 degrees will be available immediately, because the schools are still working through requirements with various accrediting bodies, Abuhamad and Hemphill said, but none of the roughly 5,000 students enrolled for the fall will be affected.

Photo: Dennis Elmer

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